Optimism About MOOCs Fades in Campus IT Offices (Chronicle)

October 1, 2014

MOOC fever is cooling, at least among campus information-technology administrators, according to the 2014 edition of the Campus Computing Survey, an annual report on technology in higher education.

While a little more than half of last year’s respondents thought MOOCs “offer a viable model for the effective delivery of online instruction,” just 38 percent of this year’s participants agreed with that statement. And only 19 percent of respondents in 2014 said MOOCs could generate new revenue for colleges, down from 29 percent last fall.

“I’m not surprised to see some pessimism about the role of MOOCs in the future,” said Norman Bier, director of the Open Learning Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University. “After a lot of excitement and a little bit of hype over the past year or two, what we’re seeing is, simply taking learning materials and making them available is not a guarantee of quality.”

Since 1990, the Campus Computing Survey has measured the role of information technology in higher education. This year’s results are based on answers submitted by senior campus IT officials at 470 two- and four-year public and private nonprofit colleges in the United States.

Generating revenue from MOOCs is of interest to the many universities that have teamed up with providers like Coursera and edX using a variety of contracts. Coursera guarantees its college partners a cut of generated revenue, while colleges that use edX see returns only after edX collects specified amounts. It’s not yet clear how profitable any MOOCs will be.

“Part of the challenge is, they came out guns blazing with this grand prediction of disruption,” said Benjamin B. Bederson, associate provost for learning initiatives at the University of Maryland at College Park. “It’s absolutely the case that they haven’t come anywhere close to the level of disruption” people thought possible two years ago.

But running MOOCs through Coursera has provided Maryland with branding opportunities, Mr. Bederson said, and has engaged faculty members in creative thinking about teaching with technology.

And so far, he’s pleased with the financial side of the equation, too. A small percentage of students who take free MOOCs later sign up for fee-based online classes at the university, Mr. Bederson reported. Coursera’s revenue-sharing model, he said, more than makes up the university’s cost of paying professors to develop MOOCs.

“It creates real, strong positives for our campus,” he said.

In addition to decreased optimism about MOOCs among IT administrators, the survey revealed universities’ weaknesses in providing accessible technology to students with disabilities, increased interest in applications for mobile devices, and concerns about cloud security.

 

About Ryan C. Fowler

Ryan is a curricular fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington D.C. He also teaches at Franklin and Marshall College and Lancaster Theological Seminary.
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